Skip to comments.5 Things You Need to Know About the Large Hadron Collider Now
Posted on 09/10/2008 5:13:56 AM PDT by yankeedame
Study up with new mysteries from the celebrity particle collider before it doesn't destroy the world on Wednesday, then talk physics with the interactive chat widget belowand stay tuned for on-the-scene reporting in the morning!
A a large dipole magnet is lowered into the tunnel to complete the basic
installation of the more than 1700 magnets that make up the Large Hadron
Collider (LHC), which measures 27 km in circumference.
The largest particle accelerator in history will take another step on Wednesday toward living up to its own celebrity. In the ongoing autopsy of the subatomic functions of the universe, the Large Hadron Collider could be the best hope yet to transform theoretical reality, such as dark matter and extra dimensions, into observable fact. And we'll be on hand to watch the LHC turn on, so stay tuned.
But why, exactly, are people without advanced degrees in physics counting the minutes until the first proton beam travels the length of the LHC's 27-kilometer (about 17-mile) accelerator ring? Is it because the bad science of the machine's supposed doomsday potential traveled fasterand louderthan responsible dissections of quantum mechanics? Is it because the LHC, which sits underneath Switzerland and France, feels like a turning point in the loss of American scientific primacy? Or is it because, however complex the physics might be, there's simply never been a larger, more powerful proton-smashing mega-gadget like it?
The answer is probably the doomsday thing, but on the eve of the accelerator's first full beam (and despite the glut of existing coverage) there's still a lot to be learned fromand aboutthe LHC.
1. It isn't the world's first doomsday machine.
Anyone who continues to believe that the LHC has the potential to end the world, by belching out a planet-engulfing black hole, or even to collapse or rewrite the fundamental structure of the universe, isn't going to be swayed by science. Forget that the tiny black holes the accelerator could generate will instantly pop in and out of existence like phantom soap bubbles, without the necessary mass to sustain themselves. Black holes are compelling, and like storm chasers hoping for every hurricane to swell to a Category 5, it is fun for the doomsayers to talk about the unprecedented devastation that could break up an otherwise dull Wednesday afternoon.
So without diving into the statistical and scientific illiteracy of anyone seriously worried about an LHC-related doomsday, consider that this is the third time in 15 years that a new accelerator has sparked fears of Armageddon. The last time was in 1999, when Brookhaven National Laboratory's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) was about to go on line, recreating the big bang in miniature. The worries were almost identical to what's been said about the LHCblack holes, and/or a fundamental reorganization of the universe at a quantum level. And in the mid-1990s, the idea that the Tevatron accelerator at Fermi National Particle Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) was about to create a supernova was floated. The champion of that theory was Paul Dixon, a psychologist from the University of Hawaii who showed up at Fermilab with "Home of the Supernova" scrawled on a bedsheet.
A giant magnet weighing 1920 tons was sent underground where it will rest 100 meters
down in a 27km tunnel to provide a magnetic field for a giant particle detector.
The detector will collect data for the Large Hadron Collider (LCH).
2. Even if the world is going to end, it won't be on Wednesday. Although the LHC will make history with a proton beam traveling the full circumference of the accelerator loop, it won't be unraveling any cosmic mysteries. Beam day is essentially another in a series of tests to confirm the performance of the system before initiating the high-energy proton collisions. That will involve firing up both beams, to run in opposite directions, and possibly generating particles that have previously appeared only in textbooks and blackboard diagrams. It could take a month for the proton smashing to begin, and even longer for some of the various experiments to get started. Which means that the LHC will be inspiring wrongheaded dreadand possibly more lawsuits and death threatsfor some time to come. "It's very different now," says Judy Jackson, head of the Office of Communications at Fermilab. "When Dixon talked about how dangerous the Tevatron was, some people got in touch with their representatives and their senators. So we put out a fact sheet, and that was it. He was a guy with a bedsheet. Now, the bedsheet is the whole Internet." The more recent LHC fears are no more real or troubling than the rumors surrounding Tevatron and RHIC. Knowing that previous accelerator doomsayers were wrong might not silence the current crop, but it might prevent the bad science from spreading even further.
An engineer pointing at the magnet core of the world's largest superconducting
solenoid magnet (CMS, Compact Muon Solenoid), part of the Large Hadron
3. It isn't the biggest particle accelerator ever planned.
As impressive as the LHC may be, it isn't quite the most ambitious accelerator attempted in the history of science. That bittersweet honor goes to the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), a system that, on paper, had more than triple the size and power of the LHC. First proposed in the early 1980s, the SSC's final design included an 87-km-long accelerator ring, with beams as powerful as 30 or even 40 trillion electron-volts (eV). The LHC, by comparison, is expected to reach 7 trillion eV later this year.
Similar to the Large Hadron Collider, the Superconducting Super Collider was an international project, which many hoped would have sufficient power to generate elusive particles like the Higgs boson. However, the project was killed in 1993, two years after construction began, south of Dallas, Texas. Roughly 2 billion dollars had been spent on the SSC design and siting, including some 14 miles of tunnels, but faced with the prospect of spending as much as $10 billion more on the mammoth accelerator, Congress pulled the plug. For the relatively small community of scientists who are hoping to one day build the Very Large Hadron Collider, a bigger followup to the LHC, the abandoned remains of the SSC cast a particularly long shadow.
A model of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) tunnel is seen in the CERN
(European Organization For Nuclear Research) visitors' center.
4. The Large Hadron Collider needs help. There's no doubt that the LHC is capable of generating a fair share of novel particles and Nobel prizes. The secret is its record-breaking beam power, which is due in large part to a huge, nation-bridging accelerator ring (the 27-km tunnel is bisected by the France-Switzerland border). With enough power, physicists hope, the colliding protons will shed particles that have never been directly observed. And while some of the properties of a Higgs boson can be examined in the LHC, the accelerator's brute-force approach doesn't lend itself to a thorough inspection of the particle. To better dissect the various particles that the LHC is expected to generate, physicists agree that one or more companion systems should be built.
That, unfortunately, is the limit of the consensus. Today, there are a number of LHC-assisting programs either directly or indirectly competing for funding and support. The International Linear Collider (ILC), for example, is envisioned as a slightly longer accelerator, with a 30-km tunnel that would bend slightly to accommodate the curvature of the Earth. It would have exponentially less power (just 500 giga eV of collision energy), but because of the nature of the collisions in a linear accelerator, the ILC would allow for more precise measurements of the particles created by its circular counterpart. When (or if) the LHC generates that crucial Higgs boson, the ILC will be able to quantify its spin, mass and other characteristics. The ILC wouldn't generate the headlines that its trailblazing partner might, but it could prove at least as essential in the lab.
"If you see things at LHC, you might know what they are, but you won't know much else," Fermilab's Jackson says. "In order to verify where you were seeing what you thought, and learn more about those particles, you need to come at them from a different approach. So in principle, yes, the world particle physics community would love to have another way to get at these questions." The problem is time and money. Many physicists believe it's necessary to wait for results to start coming in from LHC, to determine how much energy is needed for a companion accelerator. Even then, projects like the ILC would have to compete with smaller systems, like Fermilab's proposed high-energy neutrino source, Project X, or the possibility of upgrades to the LHC. It could take years for funds to be allocated and designs to be finalized, but the long-term success of the LHC could be in the hands of its more obscure accelerator entourage.
European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) scientists face
computer screens at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) control center.
5. Particle physics isn't a spectator sport. With public interest in particle accelerators at an all-time high, we don't want to ruin the party. But in the interest of defusing the coming hangover, a word of warning: When the LHC comes on line tomorrow, as scientists and journalists look on, and people around the world watch via webcast ... there won't be much to look at. Black holes won't eat anyone alive, particles won't be discovered and, most important, the action will happen off-camera.
"It's not like the old days, with the bubble chambers, so you could watch what's going on," Jackson says. "It's all electronically detected. There are beam position monitors that show you the beam is here. It's a curve on a screen. And we'll be able to see the detector, but there won't be any collisions." Lucky viewers might be able to watch journalists (like us) and scientists at Fermilab in their pajamas, as data streams in from the LHC control room in Geneva. Which isn't to say that this accelerator is over-hyped, or even overexposed. The LHC, in all likelihood, is going to literally change the way we look at the universe, and possibly generate the kind of public support that will fuel decades of new research into particle physics. It might be the most famous device to ever launch particles through a massive tunnel at breakneck speedsbut that doesn't mean it's ready for prime time.
You seem to demand that we know what we are going to do with something before we’ve run any experiments. That is the problem with hard science. You have to do the research before you can come up with the applications.
I guess we'll have to disagree on that one. Had Bubba Clinton not killed it, we would have long since surpassed this point and be well on the way to discovering or producing and refining new alternative spources of energy that would make gasoline obsolete.
I suppose that, in one sense, you can dismiss the SSC as a big, overpriced science experiment that doesn't benefit anyone. But, the same could be said of the space program.
We know what America is and has become without the SSC, but we'll never know what we would have become with it.
BTW, when Bubba "the Rapist" killed the SSC, it was under budget and ahead of schedule. He killed it for political reasons, nothing else. Imagine if LBJ would have killed the space program.
Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn
Remember how she said,
That we would meet again,
Some sunny day.
What has become of you?
Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?
Vera is 91 yrs old and lives in Britain.
Unless they find the Higgs boson, does this “matter?” (Little particle physics humor..)
History Channel is running documentary on this that helps bring particle physics down to something everyone can understand. Fascinating stuff.
Oh, ye of little faith. Word is out that soon to be marketed is Super Collider Crispies, a new breakfast cereal developed during the course of the experiments.
You pour Tang on it and it goes snap, crackle and BOOM.....and your house blows up to smithereens with you in it.
One small splat for mankind..........
"Where's the KA-BOOM? There was supposed to be an Earth-Shattering KA-BOOM!"
More on the Hadron Collider. I imagine there will be lots of these articles today.
More on the Hadron Collider. I imagine there will be lots of these articles today.
Fermilab discovered three of the theoretical particles that made up the Standard model.
Read more here: http://quarknet.fnal.gov/run2/fnalpast.shtml
It’s significant in many ways but probably boring to most people. One of them is the hypothetical potential for extra dimensions in space-time. Another is gravitons, which are elementary particals that are responsible for this enigma we call gravity. The implications are enormous, but you’ll have to use your imagination from here on out. Discovering what is responsible for gravity will allow us to replicate it. If we can “control” gravity, we can do many, many things, one of which is to perhaps make nuclear fusion more efficient and less tedious to reproduce.
Ending the worlds energy “crisis”..
Knowing the fundemental make up of the universe will allow us to one day manipulate it, much like we do with everything we have come to master.
in 1969, when (Robert R.)Wilson was in the hot seat testifying before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Sen. John Pastore demanded to know how a multimillion-dollar particle accelerator improved the security of the country. Wilson said the experimental physics machine had “nothing at all” to do with security, and the senator persisted.
“It has only to do,” Wilson told the lawmakers, “with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”
the Superconducting Super Collider was an international project, which many hoped would have sufficient power to generate elusive particles like the Higgs bosons/b "detect" rather than "generate".
What’s the worst that could happen? The creation of a new Big Bang event that will rip a hole in space-time that will pulverize our solar system to quarks and suck it into a newly warped space-time continuum, making it part of the creation of a new and separate universe?
The vast majority of our present universe will probably remain intact.
Ya gotta look at the big picture. :)
I read another article that said they changed the date to next Tuesday........something to do with having to run payroll on Monday.
sixth thing, for those of us who read to fast - “it’s hadron” and not “hardon”
in 1969, when (Robert R.)Wilson was in the hot seat testifying before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Sen. John Pastore demanded to know how a multimillion-dollar particle accelerator improved the security of the country. Wilson said the experimental physics machine had nothing at all to do with security, and the senator persisted.These remarks by Wilson are nonsense. A government-funded accelerator has NOTHING to do with "our love of culture," and NOTHING to do with whether or not we are "good painters, good sculptors, great poets." It is neutral on these points, and one could certainly argue that it is negative regarding "the respect with which we regard another" and "the dignity of men" in that he asked the government to fork over the hard-earned money of American citizens just so he could get a new toy (given that it had nothing to do with national security or any other proper role of government, that's exactly what it was.)
It has only to do, Wilson told the lawmakers, with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.
Do you think going to the moon “improved the security of the country”? Or do you think it had more to do with “the respect with which we regard one another” (as Americans)? Which do you really think was more expensive or contributed more to our knowledge of Science, the particle accelerator or the Apollo mission?
He is saying that if all we did as a nation was directed only towards our own survival and self interest that we would be a poor nation and not worth defending. And it DOES have to do with all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about.But not all we do as a nation is funded/supervised by the government. In fact, very little should be, as the proper role of government is very limited. A nation or a people is not measured by what its government compels of it, because virtue is not the result of compulsion.
Do you think going to the moon improved the security of the country?Given that the space race was an extension of the arms race during the Cold War: Absolutely.
Or do you think it had more to do with the respect with which we regard one another (as Americans)?There was quite a bit of national pride involved, certainly. And there was nothing at all wrong with that. But that is not the same thing as the human dignity which is recognized by our basic national principles.
Which do you really think was more expensive or contributed more to our knowledge of Science, the particle accelerator or the Apollo mission?Irrelevant, for the reasons given above.